In a underground world particularly noted for its individualism, its refreshing to see how cohesive the overall approach of Australian street artists Dabsmyla is when creating new pieces all around the globe. A couple creating as one, their level of connectedness in the idiosyncratic characters that they’ve become known for, is at that point where it’s hard to distinguish whose output can really be described as autonomous from the other. Emerging out of the world renowned Melbourne graffiti scene where their SDM crew is infamous, Dabsmyla have assembled together with friends and fellow legends Rime and Persue to present a new exhibit at The Seventh Letter Gallery (big ups to Casey!) called TOUCHY SUBJECTS. We sat down with the two LA-based Aussies about drawing inspiration from Frank Zappa, the graffiti scene in Melbourne, and being afraid of earthquakes when first moving to Los Angeles.
SENAY KENFE: Can you say who you are?
DABS: Dabs and Myla, from Melbourne, Australia.
Just sitting here with Dabs and Myla at their new exhibit, Touchy Subjects. Do you want to say anything about the material that went into the exhibit?
Dabs: So the exhibit Touchy Subjects is with two of our friends Rime and Persue. We’ve known both of those guys for a while. I guess we were all put together because we were all friends and also because we all -
Myla: I think all of our work complements each other as well. There’s the same kind of quirkiness in all of our work I guess.
Dabs: Even though it’s different there’s still a similarity, and it’s all character-based. So it makes sense for us to all be doing something like this together.
Myla: Yeah, it’s really fun because Jersey Joe and Persue, they’ve come to LA for the show and we live here so everyone’s staying at our house this week. So it’s been a crazy week working on this show, being in our place with them, and just hanging out with these guys. Just having weeklong jokes with these guys has been really, really fun. And I think that the show looks like that as well. I think when you come in you have a good idea of the humor that all of us have in our work.
There’s definitely a natural cohesiveness and flow that goes into Touchy Subjects.
Dabs: Yeah, I think so.
Myla: I think so too.
I think it translates well to the viewer.
Myla: Thanks, man, thanks so much.
Earlier you said the word “quirky.” In your creative minds - you guys are two people but you draw as one individual - what makes it easy for you to draw these people who come out looking so peculiar?
Myla: I suppose because maybe it’s the situations and the scenarios that they’ve been put in. And the stories that go behind these characters. I think that, to me, I think that’s why they’re a little bit strange and funny. Just given the situations that they are in.
Dabs: And then I think that the style of them is drawn from - there’s a reminiscent 1950s style and all that animation and they were all quirky, that was a quirky time. For characters too, everyone’s wobbling around and funny-faced. I think, also, we’re kind of -
Dabs: We’re kind of quirky people, I guess, so that’s always going to reflect. It’s the same with Rime, when you look at his characters they are all about him. You see the insanity that is him.
Myla: And I suppose with our work, we’re like - we’re just taking things that happen in our life and making our pictures about that. Even when it’s very strange and not very realistic, it’s still about things that happen and things that we see.
Dabs: If we were mad serious people, there’d be more of a chance that we’d be making mad serious artwork, but if we were super dark and mysterious then maybe we would make dark and mysterious work. But we’re the opposite of that.
You guys seem very happy and upbeat.
Dabs: Yeah, we’re pretty upbeat people.
That’s good to have in art.
Myla: Maybe that’s what makes the show so cohesive is that Persue and Jersey Joe are really similar. The jokes have just been going all week. I think that that’s one of the things we have in common, our humor.
Is that what connected you guys? Because you guys met each other in school?
Myla: We met each other when we were studying and -
Dabs: And I think that’s how - you know what, I think that originally what connected the two of us to each other - even though we were studying illustration together and we were in the same classes together at art school - what connected us was music.
Dabs: We had a very, very similar taste in music and we still do. All the music that I love is all the music that she loves. So I guess, originally how we connected with each other was through that.
What band did he tell you that he liked and you were like, “Oh my god. You too?”
Myla: So much stuff. One of the first bands that we started talking about was Pavement. I remember, you didn’t have that album, Terror Twilight, and then I lent it to you. And then I really liked Sublime - I still do a lot. Then you brought me that Operation Ivy record. There’s so much stuff that has overlapped from when we were younger and that we introduced to each other as well.
Dabs: And then new stuff being introduced…
Myla: Since then. Like, music is a real core in our relationship still. So much is focused around what we’re listening to.
What inspires you when you guys are making art?
Myla: For the last year, we’ve been listening to a lot of rock and roll music and have been listening to a lot of stuff that’s from the '60s and '70s.
Dabs: For this exhibit we’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Zappa.
Myla: A lot!
That’s crazy you guys live in LA now, he created Laurel Canyon.
Myla: He started this movement of the freaks, that was started in [the ’60s]. So for us to be able to live here and have a real passion in music and continue to learn the history and then be in the areas that these people were starting things and playing is so exciting. We’ve been living here for almost six years and still, now, we’re like, “Oh, god!” We drive past stuff and we’re like, “That’s where that happened.”
Dabs: We were listening to a lot of Frank Zappa, I think one of the last months where we were working on this show, Frank Zappa was getting thrashed. Then, Thee Oh Sees have been getting a lot of listening to lately.
Myla: And then King Kahn and the Shrines, we’ve been listening to that a lot. So I think that that sort of style -
Dabs: A lot of '90s music too actually, and another band Speedy Ortiz. We listen to a lot of everything everyday. Because when we’re at home - if we’re not out of town, when we’re in LA - we’re working in the studio and when we’re working in the studio - which takes up a big chunk of our year - it’s 14 or 15 hour days of just sitting in a room painting. So that’s a lot of music to be listening to over that many days.
Can you describe your upbringing in Melbourne? And how you guys grew up that led you to the graffiti scene?
Dabs: We both grew up in Melbourne, but we both grew up in different sides of the city, but both out of the city. So deep suburbs, beyond the suburbs and actually closer to -
Myla: In the '80s when we grew up, where we lived in the suburbs, it was on the outskirts of the city and so it was at the very end of the train lines.
Dabs: Yeah, we both lived on the ends of separate train lines.
Myla: Opposite sides of the city, but the end of the train lines. So it was suburbs but almost country as well.
Dabs: Yeah. But, in saying that, from the Hurstbridge Line where she lived and the Belgrave Line where I lived - both had really strong graffiti. Even though they’re very deep out and closer to the country, there’s still a train line, therefore there’s still a lot of graffiti. From both ends of those lines there was a lot of really good graffiti; and always has been. Like PBP Crew and DMA and then WCA and other crew on her line. A lot of really good stuff even deep out where lived.
And so just being out there, your lives revolve around the train because you’re in the middle of nowhere and that’s the only way you’re getting to the city - only way you’re getting anywhere. And so we both saw a lot of graffiti growing up, going in and out of the city from where we lived; a lot of good graffiti too.
So when I was about 13 or 14, I just started. I think the guy I used to buy weed from, he was older than me, he was a writer. So were all the guys who hung out at his house, they were all in a crew called DA. I looked up to these dudes, they were all 3 years older than me, so me and my friends who were my age would go out bombing with them and we thought it was pretty sick. We started practicing a bunch and just got into it from there. I was bombing for a couple years and these guys - they didn’t piece or anything, they just tagged. I wanted to get into piecing and stuff, so I started practicing that, then met up with other dudes who were into that - older guys again - but they started showing me how to paint and took me out to do my first pieces and whatever. It evolved from there.
Then I started to take more interest in art. The more I got involved in graffiti, the more I wanted to go out and get better at just doing art. So I went to school and that’s where I met her. We met at school and by then, I had already been painting graffiti for 10 or 11 years. And I was part of a crew called STM which was some of these dudes that were taking me out to start doing pieces like Method and some other guys when I was younger. That was their crew so I ended up becoming part of that crew, which was an honor for me at the time, especially.
Then when we met, we were both artists. But once we started getting together, I started to take Myla out and teach her how to make pieces.
How did it feel to be surrounded by so much art in a public setting? In comparison to here in LA. Is it legal to paint in the streets in Melbourne?
Dabs: No, there’s spots to paint in Melbourne. There’s definitely more graffiti in Melbourne than there is in Los Angeles.
Myla: Because of the train line, you can paint walls across -
Dabs: The whole train lines. And even in the city, they just don’t clean graffiti like they do in LA, so there’s a lot more. Looking here, it’s weird not seeing a shit ton of graffiti all the time every day. It’s okay though, there’s other upsides to LA. I’d trade seeing a whole bunch of graffiti for perfect weather.
Myla: Also, since we left they started to really crack down.
Dabs: They’ve been harder on graffiti in Melbourne since we left.
Myla: It was maybe a year before we moved.
Were you nervous about coming to LA?
Myla: Yeah, maybe not nervous, we didn’t know what to expect. We had been here a couple of times before so we had gotten a little general sense of the city. But we didn’t really know where we were going to live or what we were going to do or anything like that. Also, moving somewhere we didn’t know a lot of general information like how do you get a car registered and all that kind of normal stuff.
Dabs: I remember just before we moved - because we didn’t know shit about LA - we had been here on small vacations, but we just liked the weather and we thought there was a good, positive vibe here. For some reason we were like, “We should move over here because it seems really positive and really fucking cool.” So we did. But I remember just before we moved here -
Myla: Freaking out.
Dabs: Freaking out about earthquakes actually. I’d be waking up in the middle of the night like, “Man, why are we moving to somewhere that has fucking earthquakes?” I guess because we didn’t know anything about it so I started to get paranoid about that for some reason. Maybe it was a manifestation of all the other anxieties subconsciously turning into earthquakes. Because I’m not going to think about earthquakes, who does? But it was one thing that happens in LA that doesn’t happen in Australia and I got bugged out on it just for a second.
How does it feel to live off of your art?
Myla: Great, it feels amazing because it’s the kind of thing that people have told you your whole life that you’d never [do] - especially in Melbourne. So many people would tell you, like teachers and family, that you need to find something else to do. Graphic design or interior design or something that’s artistic.
Dabs: Your whole life you’re told that you’ll never be able to make a job out of that -
Myla: Out of just being an artist. And then to do that feels like an accomplishment because you’ve defied being told what you can’t do.
Dabs: You beat the system.
Myla: And then it feels so liberating because everything that we make, we’re making with our own hands and we live from that. It’s one of the coolest things ever.
Dabs: Yeah, definitely a sense of achievement from the whole thing, I guess. Not everyone can do that and we’re so lucky to be able to be us and live that way.
Myla: And just for so much of our life, we thought we’d have to work shitty jobs or something. Then to know that we don’t is awesome and to see that other people don’t is so inspiring as well. I couldn’t be happier really.
I was asking him earlier about the characters and who drew this one and that one and he’s like, “I don’t really know.” He said you did the lettering.
Dabs: [To Myla] Yeah, on the sticker sheet you did the whole lettering, I didn’t touch the lettering. But I think everything else we both touched a part of. It’s always different, but a lot of the time it might even be that I’ll draw very loose and then pass it to her and she’ll make it better or vice versa. She’s like, “How about something like this?” Then I take that and I draw over it. Or sometimes I’ll do everything and she’ll just draw a top hat on the dude because she’s better at drawing top hats or whatever and I pass it over.
Myla: Yeah, it’s so funny, such a funny thing.
How does it feel to create not just with someone who maybe you have an artistic connection with, but someone that you’re in love with?
Myla: I love it. I think it’s amazing. I think that we can tell each other anything that we want about anything. But also with our artwork, if one of us doesn’t like something or if one of us feels really happy about it, we know that that’s a sincere response. It makes things really easy as well - just two people making things.
Dabs: We’re lucky too, if it can work and you like each other and you’re not arguing with each other over shit - which we never do just because of our personality traits - then it’s sick. We get to make this stuff together, it’s so good. So that’s why we’re so lucky being able to do that.
If it works it’s the best. A lot of the time it doesn’t work because personalities clash even when you’re in love with each other or married or in a relationship trying to work together it doesn’t work out. I guess for whatever reason it just works for us. I think it makes what we do even better, more enjoyable.
Follow DABSMYLA on Instagram @dabsmyla
Don’t miss their current group show “Touchy Subjects” at The Seventh Letter with Rime and Persue, which will be showing until this Saturday, October 4. For more information, visit TheSeventhLetter.com.